January 25, 2010 in Awayfinder destinations

Winter fun is a ‘shoe-in’ with snowshoeing

Linn Parish Awayfinder Correspondent
 
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During an early January snowshoeing class at Mount Spokane, instructor Trey Nichols asked the seven participants to introduce themselves and tell everybody their favorite wintertime activity.

The answers ranged from “sitting by the fire” to “drinking cocoa by the fire” to “basketball season.” These weren’t hardcore winter-sports enthusiasts; these people were trying to find a way to get outside and enjoy the winter months in the Inland Northwest. These people were in the right place.

Spokane-area snowshoeing advocates say the activity is an ideal way for people to experience the outdoors during the winter months. Participants don’t have to spend a lot of money on gear, and the activity doesn’t have a steep learning curve.

“With snowshoeing, you go from being a beginner to an intermediate within five minutes,” says Ron Carpenter, who works for the city of Spokane’s Parks and Recreation Department and at Recreation Equipment Inc.

The snowshoes themselves are profoundly different in look and feel from the classic oversized tennis racket-like shoe most people envision when they think about snowshoes. Today’s snowshoes are made of heavy-duty—but lightweight—plastics with metal cleats on the bottom. On some models, the bindings are flexible so that the foot moves within the shoe.

Snowshoers don’t have to be athletes or in great physical condition to enjoy the activity. Essentially, anybody who can hike will be able to snowshoe; Carpenter said snowshoeing is nothing more than hiking on snow.

In the Inland Northwest, there’s no shortage of mountains where one can find snow to trek through, even when there’s no snow in town.

Here are a few places to go to tromp your way through the snow:

Mount Spokane: Arguably the most popular place to snowshoe in Eastern Washington, the mountain features miles of trails for people of varying abilities. A parking lot and trailhead are located at a hairpin turn halfway up the mountain. The trail is an old service road that can be easily negotiated by beginner ‘shoers. For those looking for more of a challenge, a number of trails branch off from the main one, heading up to the summit of Mount Spokane, westward toward Mount Kit Carson and elsewhere on the mountain.

Three Rocks: Once you’ve seen what you want to see in the cold-weather hotspot on the front side of Mount Spokane, look for options—and amazing views—on the backside of the mountain. Access the backside of the mountain by traveling north on state Route 41, then heading westbound from Blanchard, Idaho, back into Washington on Blanchard-Elk Road.

Kettle Range: About 100 miles north of Spokane, the Kettle Mountain Range is home to trails with stunning scenery and hardly any other people. Sherman Pass, along state Route 20, is the second-highest mountain pass in the state of Washington, and many snow-covered trails can be found atop it. Spokane Parks and Recreation offers a couple of guided trips in the Kettle Range this winter, if you don’t want to go trailblazing on your own.

Lake Gillette: Located in the Colville National Forest, Lake Gillette is at the start of a snowshoe ascent that ends at an overlook with great views. “It’s a good place for getting engaged,” said Nichols, who proposed to his wife at that overlook. To get there from Spokane, take U.S. 395 north to Colville, then head east into Colville National Forest on state Route 20.

The places mentioned thus far are at high altitudes, and typically, one will find snow on trails in those areas all winter long. There are many spots in or close to town, however, where one will find great snowshoeing after a strong snowfall at the lower elevations.

Liberty Lake Regional Park: Located at the southeast end of Liberty Lake, this park includes a great trail that leads up to a cedar grove—and a handful of trails branch off from there.

Dishman Hills Natural Area: Dozens of trails wind their way through the pristine woods, located south of Appleway Avenue and west of Dishman-Mica Road, in Spokane Valley. One minute, you’re standing a few blocks from automobile dealerships; the next moment, you’re in the middle of a wilderness with the sounds of the city left behind.

Riverside State Park: Bowl and Pitcher is just the beginning. Surrounding this natural phenomenon in Northwest Spokane, hundreds of trails wind their way around the river and through the neighboring forest.

Really, Nichols said, “You can snowshoe almost anywhere you can hike.”

The city of Spokane’s Park and Recreation Department offers snowshoeing lessons and guided snowshoeing trips, including some moonlit night trips that include a catered dinner afterward. For beginners, pre-trip classes are offered at Recreation Equipment Inc., at 1125 N. Monroe, or Mountain Gear, at 2002 N. Division. Both stores also offer snowshoes and poles for sale and rent.

For more information on classes offered through the city, go to www.spokaneparks.org.

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